RPW Column: All Hail King Sheppard; “SuperMatt” Captures The Gladiator Helmet At Genesee

Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – BATAVIA, NY – The last time Matt Sheppard raced at Genesee Speedway was 21 years ago in a Sportsman car.

He made his return to “The Place to Race” Thursday night and didn’t show any rust in a beat down by over seven seconds in Gladiator MMXXI, Genesee Speedway’s lone Big Block vs. Small Block Modified event of the season.

“I remember it being kind of flat and really slippery and dusty,” Sheppard told RPW comparing to the last time he raced here. “Tonight, this place had some banking. Felt like it had some grip. You could run high, low, middle. It was a lot of fun.”

Fiery pyrotechnics heated up the packed grandstand as Alan Johnson and Max McLaughlin made up the front row of 19 beasts as they came to John Veach’s green for 40 laps. McLaughlin would attempt a crossover entering the top three, but “AJ Slideways” held serve and took lap one.

Lap six, Sheppard would try to make a move on the outside of “Mad Max” for the runner-up spot before the first yellow flew for a two-car accident in turn four involving Phil Vigneri III and Gil Tegg Jr. Under yellow, McLaughlin suffered a flat tire and gave up his second spot to move to tail end for a new Hoosier, moving Sheppard up to the front row.

On the restart, Alan Johnson selected the bottom. But Sheppard up top, in a move similar to his Summer Nationals victory last week, had a better restart and powered his way by AJ and didn’t look back as the rest of the race went caution-free.

Showers were in the forecast, and it started to sprinkle around lap 12, but nothing too serious. As the drivers kept racing, Sheppard kept leading and increasing his lead. With 15 laps to go, the delta over the 14j of “AJ Slideways” was 3.6 seconds. Five to go, as Sheppard was weaving by lapped traffic like a pro, he put the gap up to five seconds. As the twin checkers flew, Sheppard took the win by 7.4 seconds over Alan Johnson and left six cars on the lead lap per live timing.

As Sheppard parked his car back in the trailer, the skies opened up more, and it rained harder.

“Here comes the rain!” Sheppard said in the pits.

“It was a lot of fun,” Sheppard said. “When your car is that good, you come to a track you don’t really know what to expect. We had a really good race car; the track was really racy. Really fun there. I had a blast.”

On the restart, Sheppard explained how he was able to get the lead from Johnson. “I found the top a little bit there just before that caution. Alan gave me the top, luckily the motor fired good. I was able to edge him into one and use the momentum to get around the high side.”

And, how about the trophy Sheppard won tonight? A gladiator helmet.

“I’ve got a lot of cool trophies. But I got a shelf in my shop up over top that’s got a bunch of really cool trophies on it. That one’s certainly going up there,” Sheppard exclaimed.

Sheppard will be racing at Utica-Rome Speedway Friday night and Land of Legends Raceway Saturday, in addition to the Super DIRTCar Series’ Liberty 100 at LOL Tuesday night.

Alan Johnson finished second, Danny Johnson third, defending winner Erick Rudolph fourth, and McLaughlin rebounded from a flat tire to finish fifth. McLaughlin was upbeat on his first trip to Genesee.

“If they have this race again next year, I will be there to support. New track for me, and I was impressed. To drive from dead last to fifth under green without a scratch on my car proves you can pass plenty well, and the folks at Genesee Speedway did a great job. Hats off to Phil Vigneri Jr. and Crew!” McLaughlin stated on his Facebook page.

Even after the rain, undercard action continued tonight with ULMS Super Late Models. The all-time ULMS winner and 3-time series champion Max Blair took his 5th win of the season.

Non-points action went down in weekly competition as Josh Pangrazio returned to Genesee and won by 1.3 seconds over Bill Taylor in Street Stock. Finally, in Mini Stocks, Dante Mancuso cruised to a 4.3-second win over James Gayton.

61 cars checked in tonight.

Genesee Speedway returns Saturday night for a full card featuring the NY6A Micro Sprint Tour.

For interviews with Matt Sheppard, Phil Vigneri III, and Ryan Susice, check out the RSN Trackside Facebook page.

Gladiator Modifieds
9s Matt Sheppard ($5000), 2. 14j Alan Johnson (7.405s), 3. 27j Danny Johnson (13.232s), 4. 25 Erick Rudolph (15.670s), 5. 32c Max McLaughlin (16.254s), 6. 44v Phil Vigneri III (22.595s), 7. 2b Ron Cartwright (-1L), 8. 2 Billy VanPelt (-1L), 9. 20k Kyle Iman (-1L), 10. 2v Phil Vigneri Jr. (-1L), 11. 26 Rick Richner (-1L), 12. 6f Kyle Fink (-1L), 13. 38 Ryan Susice (-9L), 14. 41 Tony Pangrazio (-12L), 15. 44 Shannon Whaley (-21L), 16. 27z Ray Bliss (-28L), 17. 23 Kyle Coffey (-33L), 18. 22 Gil Tegg (-35L), 19. 19w Justin Wright (-36L)

Heat Winners: 14j Alan Johnson, 25 Rudolph, 9s Sheppard
Fastest Lap: 9s Matt Sheppard 16.609s

ULMS Super Late Models
111 Max Blair ($3000), 2. 22 Greg Oaks (1.355s), 3. 94 Bryce Davis (2.246s), 4. 12b Andy Boozel (3.556s), 5. 0 Deshawn Gingerich (3.564s), 6. 19 Bob Dorman (-1L), 7. 96 Mike Smith (-3L), 8. 012 Dave DuBois (-7L)

Heat Winners: 111 Blair, 22 Oaks
Fastest Lap: 111 Max Blair 16.877s

Street Stocks
7 Josh Pangrazio ($1100), 2. 1 Bill Taylor (1.314s), 3. 0 John Zimmerman (2.687s), 4. 00 Damian Long (3.939s), 5. 72 Phil Schepis (6.416s), 6. 44m Daniel Brumsted (7.008s), 7. 13b Shawn Hazlett (7.556s), 8. 93b Tom Baker (8.502s), 9. 09 Eric Stone (12.254s), 10. 15 Zack Walsh (12.343s), 11. 79 Dale Rissinger (-1L), 12. 20 Billy Burd (-1L), 13. 84m Mike Kelly (-12L)

Heat Winners: 7 Pangrazio, 00 Long
Fastest Lap: 7 Josh Pangrazio 18.419s

Mini Stocks
1 Dante Mancuso ($500), 2. 10 James Gayton (4.384s), 3. 46 Brad Whiteside (7.429s), 4. 62 Chris Leone (7.948s), 5. 27 Andy Schumaker (8.886s), 6. 8s Brandon Shepard (9.500s), 7. Xxx Eric Weis (14.175s), 8. 98 Cole Susice (14.901s), 9. 24r Curtis Rung (15.822s), 10. 6 Ashley Harbison (18.019s), 11. 004 Olivia Coniber (21.361s), 12. 69jr Bill Weller Jr. (21.625s), 13. 23 Jessica Schleede (-1L), 14. 1p Brad Shepard (-4L), 15. 16k Robert Knapp II (-10L), 16. 10j Chuck Hughes, 17. 8 Don Whiteside

Heat Winners: 10 Gayton, 1 Mancuso
Fastest Lap: 1 Mancuso 20.129s

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